NATO Turns 75 Years Old in 2024 – An Air Forces Review


One of NATO’s own E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft in its 50th Anniversary color scheme – 25 years ago.

Story and Photos by Ken Kula

On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed by twelve countries signing the initial accord. Seventy-five years later, there are now thirty-two member countries; all but two are European nations (Canada and the United States are the two non-European countries).  More European nations are moving towards becoming part of the NATO Treaty, and more are involved in NATO’s Partnership For Peace Programs.


Greek Air Force LTV TA-7H Corsair II

According to the NATO web site, “Security in our daily lives is key to our well-being. NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. NATO promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defense and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict. NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under the collective defense clause of NATO’s founding treaty – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations. NATO is committed to the principle that an attack against one or several of its members is considered as an attack against all. This is the principle of collective defense, which is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. So far, Article 5 has been invoked once – in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. NATO is an alliance of countries from Europe and North America. It provides a unique link between these two continents, enabling them to consult and cooperate in the field of defense and security, and conduct multinational crisis-management operations together.”

Each country pledges their military assets to NATO, including ground, air and sea forces. Not only are these forces used as a deterrent for maintaining peace in the European and North American continents, but they’re available for humanitarian relief too. NATO has fleets of two cooperatively-operated aircraft types… Boeing E-3A Sentry AWACSs and C-17A Globemaster transports.

This article will focus on the aviation support with which NATO will accomplish its goals, with photographs of past and currently operated aircraft. We’ll look at when NATO expanded over 75 years from twelve members to thirty-two as well. 

According to Statista, in 2024 there are over 22,000 military aircraft that are operated by these NATO countries. The United States has by far the largest amount of aircraft available to NATO; other countries with over 500 aircraft each includes (in descending order) Turkey, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Germany and Spain. Please bear in mind that some of these aircraft photos include types that have been retired from service. The capabilities of these aircraft include: 


1493 transports including this Polish Air Force CN-295


1460 combat helicopters including this Netherlands AH-64 Apache


7490 Non-combat helicopters like this Polish PZL W-3 Sokol


1108 ground attack aircraft including this Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR.4

Italian Air Force PD-808

931 special purpose/reconnaissance/patrol including this Italian Air Force PD-808 ECM trainer


655 tankers including this US. S. Air Force McDonald Douglas KC-10A


3275 fighter interceptors including this Czech Air Force JAS-39C Gripen

The countries below are listed by the dates that they became NATO members, many with a photograph of an example of the countries’ past or present warplanes. The first twelve are original members in 1949, and later members follow.


Belgium in 1949: Belgian Air Force F-16AM


Canada in 1949: Royal Canadian Air Force Boeing CF-188 Hornet


Denmark in 1949: Danish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16AM


France in 1949: including this Dassault Rafale

Iceland in 1949: has no military aircraft but accords for defense with NATO 


Italy in 1949: like this Italian Air Force AMX-T


Luxembourg in 1949: The NATO-owned E-3A AWACS fleet wears this country’s registration numbers 


The Netherlands in 1949: including this Royal Netherlands Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16AM


Norway in 1949: including this Norwegian Air Force NF-5A Freedom Fighter


Portugal in 1949: including this Portuguese Air Force LTV A-7P Corsair II


The United Kingdom in 1949: including this Royal Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000


The United States in 1949: including this United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress


Greece in 1952 including this Hellenic Air Force F-16C


Turkey in 1952 including this ND-160 Transall


West Germany in 1955, and in 1990, the territory of the former East Germany: including this German Air Force EF-2000 Eurofighter


Spain in 1982 including this Spanish Air Force CN-235


Czech Republic in 1999 including this Aero L-159 


Hungary in 1999 Antonov AN-26, Hungary also hosts the NATO fleet of C-17 transports


Poland in 1999: including this Polish Air Force MiG-29A

Bulgaria in 2004

Estonia in 2004

Latvia in 2004

Lithuania in 2004


Romania in 2004 including this MiG-21 Lancer


Slovakia in 2004 including this Aero L-410

Slovenia in 2004

Albania in 2009


Croatia in 2009: including this Croatian Air Force PC-9M of the “Wings of Storm” Team

Montenegro in 2017

North Macedonia in 2020


Finland in 2023: including this Finnish Air Force BAE Hawk


Sweden in 2024: including this Swedish Air Force Saab S100B Argus

Since 1990, all but Finland and Sweden were former Warsaw Pact members which was dissolved with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2024, three more nations have formally begun the process to join NATO. Georgia, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina are working towards inclusion into the military alliance. Other partnerships through various Councils and mutual agreements include some forty countries… including Algeria and Argentina. Interoperability between NATO countries and non-members is just one item of interest in these partnerships. 

Here’s a gallery of aircraft which either have made or are still active with commitment to NATO and its founding principles.

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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